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Dyslexia and the education environment

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By Gordon Sherman, Ph.D.

Optimizing Education to Optimize Learning

To recap, processing differences in multiple brain systems cause fundamental difficulties in acquiring phonological and alphabetic skills. Weaknesses in these skills set the stage for academic problems in areas such as decoding, fluency, comprehension, written expression, and spelling. These problems, in turn, can lead to various negative educational and social consequences.

Fortunately, while dyslexia is brain-based and lifelong, we can prevent and diminish reading disabilities and forestall associated academic problems. The educational environment plays a key role. It can translate a distinct way of learning differently into a profound learning disability. Or it can offset neural processing weaknesses and encourage latent strengths to blossom into competencies and talents. A structured-language curriculum delivered through explicit, sequential, systematic, and cumulative instruction by highly skilled teachers is a critical component in an optimal learning environment, particularly in the early grades.

Happily, designing educational environments to enhance learning for children with dyslexia benefits all learners. However, changing these environments in order to initiate, nurture, and sustain effective teaching is challenging. Implementing effective instruction depends on teacher competencies and requires understanding of the complex dynamics of school change.

Other articles in this series will discuss multisensory instruction, early intervention, and the ways the environment actually alters brain function. In the meantime, try thinking about dyslexia from a neuroscientific perspective. Dyslexia is neurologically based. It can be disabling, particularly in the context of a poorly designed and heavily text-oriented educational setting. The environment determines the extent of the disabling consequences. Changing the environment can prevent or diminish a disability.

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